‘My God, It’s Full Of Stars’

Read Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s poems influenced by science.

The following are excerpts from Life on Mars and Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith.

My God, It’s Full of Stars

by Tracy K. Smith

When my father worked on the Hubble Telescope, he said
They operated like surgeons: scrubbed and sheathed
In papery green, the room a clean cold, a bright white.

He’d read Larry Niven at home, and drink scotch on the rocks,
His eyes exhausted and pink. These were the Reagan years,
When we lived with our finger on The Button and struggled

To view our enemies as children. My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise

As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space. On the ground, we tied postcards to balloons
For peace. Prince Charles married Lady Di. Rock Hudson died.

We learned new words for things. The decade changed.

The first few pictures came back blurred, and I felt ashamed
For all the cheerful engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics jibed. We saw to the edge of all there is—

So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.

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Watershed

by Tracy K. Smith

200 cows         more than 600 hilly acres

property would have been even larger
had  J not sold 66 acres to DuPont for
waste from its Washington Works factory
where J was employed
did not want to sell
but needed money   poor health
mysterious ailments

Not long after the sale cattle began to act
deranged
footage shot on a camcorder
grainy               intercut with static
Images jump repeat      sound accelerates
slows down
quality of a horror movie

the rippling shallow water       the white ash
trees shedding their leaves
a large pipe
discharging green water
a skinny red cow
hair missing      back humped

a dead black calf in snow         its eye
a brilliant chemical blue

a calf’s bisected head
liver     heart    stomachs    kidneys
gall bladder      some dark      some green

cows with stringy tails         malformed hooves
lesions      red receded eyes        suffering   slobbering
staggering like drunks

It don’t look like
anything I’ve been into before


Excerpt from “My God, It’s Full of Stars” from Life on Mars. Copyright © 2011 by Tracy K. Smith. Excerpt from “Watershed” from Wade in the Water. Copyright © 2019 by Tracy K. Smith. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Meet the Writer

About Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith is the U.S. Poet Laureate. She is author of several books including Wade In The Water (Graywolf, 2019) and Life On Mars (Graywolf, 2011). She is also director and professor in the Creative Writingprogram at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey.

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